Health and Wellbeing (Heather Hartwell and Ann Hemingway)

Authors: Heather Hartwell and Ann Hemingway (School of Tourism and School of Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: Wellbeing and Quality of Life

Brief theme summary: Wellbeing as described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its constitution (2006) denotes ‘health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. However, the concept is not new for example Aristotle described wellbeing in terms of ‘ataraxia’ (inner peace) and ‘eudaimonia’ (a feeling of wellbeing, happiness, contentment, pleasure, satisfaction and living the best life possible).Within the field of happiness economics, where the concept of subjective wellbeing is defined as life satisfaction, it can be both uni- or multi-dimensional. In other words from an economic standpoint, subjective wellbeing can be defined and measured as both satisfaction with life in general (uni-dimensional) and satisfaction with different aspects, or domains, of life (multi-dimensional). Happiness, although challenging to assess, as people will derive differing amounts of pleasure from the same experience, resonates with the ‘set-point’ theory of wellbeing where each individual is thought to have a set-point of happiness given by genetics and personality. Life events may deflect above and below but in time hedonic adaptation will return an individual to this initial point. The theoretical framework for interpretation is the theory of ‘Subjective Wellbeing Homeostasis’ (Australian Unity, 2010), which proposes that everyone has a genetically determined ‘set-point’ for well-being that is internally maintained and defended, similarly to how body temperature is managed. Currently, the wellbeing debate anchors on two general perspectives: the hedonic approach, which defines wellbeing in terms of pleasure attainment; and the eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realization. The latter resonates with an emerging conceptualisation of public health which is to reject the model of ourselves as mechanics that diagnose and fix what is wrong to organic metaphors where we understand ourselves as ‘gardeners’, enabling the growth of what nourishes human life and spirit.

Scope of theme: what is included?

The cross university wellbeing theme currently with 113 staff registered has identified the following foci of activity:

  • Quality of life, wellness, wellbeing
  • Public Health
  • Health behaviours, physical activity, nutrition
  • Economic wellbeing
  • Health systems
  • Assistive and enabling technologies
  • Wellbeing in the workplace, learning environment, caring environment
  • Social inclusion and cohesion
  • Use of Media to influence Public Wellbeing
  • Emotions
  • Human right and ethics


Scope of theme: what is excluded? Infectious diseases.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? Behavioural and lifestyle factors are major contributors to ill health and death some are well known such as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise however some are less obvious such as social isolation which is associated with increasing the risk of mental illness and coronary heart disease. A strong evidence base is required that will change the focus of our ‘National Sickness Service’ to one of prevention. In the Public Health White Paper, 2010, the emphasis is on research that can demonstrate new and cost effective ways of encouraging healthy behaviour.

The current fifth wave of public health identifies three main challenges:

  • How can the social and commercial changes which have conspired to make overweight/obesity more ‘normal’ be reversed?
  • How can the social inequality gap be reduced?
  • How can the rise in the levels of depression and anxiety with the associated loss of mental and emotional wellbeing be addressed?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies?

AHRC – Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) is a major cross-council initiative supporting multi-disciplinary research addressing factors across the life course that influence healthy ageing and wellbeing in later life. 

ESRC STRATEGIC PRIORITIES 2011-2015 – There are three refined primary strategic research objectives, which will guide future funding from the ESRC, in light of the comprehensive spending review – health and wellbeing would be incorporated within:

  • Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions – Create a better understanding of how and why people and organisations make decisions, and how these can be managed or influenced.

EU – FP7 Activity 2.2 Fork to farm: Food (including seafood), health and well being – Understanding consumer behaviour and consumer preferences as a major factor in the competitiveness of the food industry and the impact of food on the health, and well-being of the European citizen.

National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Funding stream on applied research focusing on dementia prevention, diagnosis and care and specifically on promoting the wellbeing of sufferers.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This theme will link with recreation and leisure (serious leisure and physical activity), society and social change, green economy (slow travel), and aging.

Currently, there is much interest from local and national colleagues, for example locally, Dr Adrian Dawson (Director of Public Health) and social enterprises such as BH Live and Active Dorset. Nationally, the Department of Health and the Royal Society for Public Health are engaged with the HEIF Wellbeing in the Workforce project. A horizontal wellbeing theme links the relationship between research and policy and hence provides an opportunity to demonstrate impact.

Key dates are:

  • May 27th (cross university meeting with the Director of Public Health)
  • July 6th (Innovation in Wellbeing Conference, HEIF Wellbeing in the Workplace project)
  • July 13th (cross university meeting with BH Live)

In addition, this theme will build on the work of CeWQoL, with its many local, national and international partners, and is a vertical stream within HSC, as it is within the School of Tourism through the Centre for Events and Sport Research.

Just to note: 

  • BU has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Royal Society for Public Health, a powerful and strategic leader within this discipline.
  • BU is part of the Healthy University network.

3 Responses to “Health and Wellbeing (Heather Hartwell and Ann Hemingway)”

  1. Kirsty

    This is the theme that I personally most identify with in its broadest sense. One addition to the scope that I would like to see would be to do with engagement in daily life (or occupations). Concepts suh as occupational balance could be considered and, like Heather noted about the wellbeing ‘set-point’ this is not a simple divide of time equally between different responsibilities but will be individually measured.

  2. Richard Shipway

    I just have one very brief observation and comment.

    It’s interesting that a leading Sports University, Brunel, have just launched a new research centre called ‘Brunel Centre for Sport Health and Wellbeing’.

    Perhaps this also serves to reinforce the strong links between some of the BU proposed themes, and opens up an interesting debate about where sport, leisure, recreation should be positioned?

  3. David Osselton, Kevin McGhee & Wei-Jun Liang

    Genomics is beginning to make significant inroads into the newly emerging area of personalised medicine where patients are now being considered as having individual polymorphic traits that will allow tailored treatment including, but not limited to, prediction of individual responses to drugs, drug efficacy, toxicity and side effects rather than the traditional generic approach to treatment where all patients are given the same treatment but success rates amongst individuals differ widely. The application of genomics can have a significant impact on society ranging from improvements in Healthcare provision e.g. the improvement of patient care, alleviation of suffering, reduction of the cost associated with ineffective prescribing; Economics – the cost of miss prescribing drugs and adverse drug interactions runs into millions of dollars per year; and Law and order with the emergence of a new field known as “Personalised Justice”. There have recently been a number of successful lawsuits where the courts have ruled that individuals have suffered as a result of medical treatment that would not have been administered had the genetic profile of the individuals been determined prior to treatment. We are well placed to drive a number of projects in this area and would recommend that genomics be placed within the scope of Health and Well Being.